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Will Texas Public Education Survive Greg Abbott?

Texas has a prolonged history with alternatives to public education. In the past, the push toward vouchers was because of racial segregation, but this time, it is about money and Greg Abbott’s determination to do the bidding of those with the most money. This relationship between Abbott and a few deep-pocketed individuals is reciprocal. 

In 1957, the Texas House approved a bill that would have given any family that withdrew their child from an integrated school a “tuition grant” to attend a private school. The bill was part of a package of legislation sent to the state Senate with one goal: keeping schools segregated by race. It failed.

In 1995, Texas lawmakers approved charter schools. They were designed, in part, to provide competition to traditional public schools. Charter proponents used trite economic free market philosophy as justification. Bad campuses would be forced to clean up their act and deliver, in order to survive. If they didn’t, students could enroll in new and improved charter schools, and state education money would follow them.

Thirty years later, various research studies concluded that many students fled public education, not because of a better education, but because they could avoid the stressful high stakes state testing in public schools.

It’s no secret that public schools across the state are struggling. State funding which was promised because of a budget surplus, but never passed, inflationary price increases in the materials required to run a school, and new, unreasonable legislative mandates are forcing districts to adopt deficit budgets, cut programs and staff, and even some are threatened with closure.  

Throughout the tug of war, the call against vouchers is loudest in rural districts, where public schools are the heart of the community, often emotionally and economically.

A slate of 21 defiant Texas Republican lawmakers, mostly rural, agreed. They repeatedly refused to support a school voucher proposal championed by Abbott. The program would have allowed any Texas student to use public money to offset the cost of private-school tuition, but skeptical lawmakers worried the plan would divert dollars from public schools, tightening district budgets without a proportionate reduction in costs. In reality, the $8000 amount wouldn’t have covered the cost of a private school. It would, however, help the richest Texans financially, the Texans whose child was already attending a private school.

Abbott pivoted to the “our schools are for education, not indoctrination,” trope. That didn’t fly in rural districts, because if mom or Aunt Sally was the counselor or teacher at the rural school, indoctrination was definitely nonexistent.

The governor tried again. He tied the passage of his voucher plan to a $7.6 billion funding boost for public schools that included teacher pay raises. Abbott thought it was politically ethical to hold 64,000 educators hostage to get what he wanted. Still, those 21 House lawmakers feared the measure would pull resources away from their public schools, so they sided with state Democrats to torpedo the legislation.

Others saw clearly through his effort. “Abbott wanted them to bend the knee and kiss the ring, and they’re just not going to do it. That ain’t Texas,” said Rev. Charles Johnson, executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, a public-school advocacy group. 

As a last ditch effort, Greg Abbott targeted the holdouts, many of whom he previously endorsed in past contests. Instead, he stumped for handpicked extremist pro-voucher candidates and used his own campaign war chest to fund those candidates. It worked for Iowa Governor Gov. Kim Reynolds in 2022, but will it work for Abbott?

For some in Texas, Abbott’s primary endorsements represent a betrayal—not only to the representatives who helped get Abbott elected, but also to educators who have been waiting for a raise and superintendents adopting school budgets.  

Abbott claimed lawmakers were fighting against their constituents by rejecting vouchers. One of the most vocal of the 21 reps, Glenn Rogers, said nearly 90 percent of the messages his office received from constituents during the special sessions were to voice opposition to vouchers. He was merely trying to work with his constituents’ wishes. 

Dan Patrick dug his heels in, saying he expected lawmakers to adopt a voucher plan in February 2025. That means Abbott would have to designate vouchers as an emergency item to bypass a constitutional rule which prevents Texas lawmakers from passing legislation during the first 60 days of a regular legislative session. Consequently, vouchers became one of Abbott’s seven emergency priorities. The only problem is that a poll conducted by the Texas Politics Project at UT found that only 2 percent of Republican primary voters listed vouchers as a “most important” issue. The 89th legislative session is scheduled to begin on Jan. 14. Abbott claims they are only one vote away from passing vouchers.

Patrick had to have the last word: “If that bill doesn’t pass, I’m not signing another bill all session.” 

The survival of public education will depend on your vote in the upcoming elections. Simply and directly put: A vote for an Abbott-endorsed candidate in ANY election, is a vote for vouchers. No one is coming to save public education; not a court order, a single politician, or even Batman. You’re on your own. It comes down to you and your vote. 

Carol Morgan
Carol Morgan
The sleepy, dusty town of Lubbock, Texas, in the late fifties, was the perfect incubator for a shy, imaginative child who was a voracious reader with a dream of becoming a writer. Carol Morgan spent almost 30 years as a teacher and counselor, but even in her stint as an educator she continued to write. She was the executive producer of Career Connection, an education program on LISD-TV. In 2001, Carol began a second career as a career counselor, writer and speaker. Her goal was to encourage others to use their gifts and talents to make changes in their lives and the world. That business endured for 20 years until closing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was the host of a local radio talk show, Career 411, offering on-air advice and featuring unique careers. As a freelance writer, she’s contributed articles to various publications about Texas politics and life. Carol was the Democratic candidate for the Texas House of Representatives in 2010, and has never recovered from her addiction to Texas politics. She is the author of two books, garnering honors and awards for her writings.

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